“There is so much they bring with them,” she said. “They bring the wholeworld with them. We can’t stop that from happening.”Sweden’s experiment in gender-neutral preschools began in 1996 in Trodje,a small town near the edge of the Baltic Sea. The man who started it, IngemarGens, was not an educator but a journalist who dabbled in anthropology andgender theory, having studied Swedish men seeking mail-order brides inThailand. Newly appointed as a district “equal opportunity expert,” Mr. Genswanted to break down the norm of stoic, unemotional Swedish masculinity.Preschool struck him as the right place to do this. Swedish children spendmuch of their early life in government-funded preschools, which offer care atnominal cost for up to 12 hours a day starting at the age of 1.Two schools rolled out what was called a compensatory gender strategy.Boys and girls at the preschools were separated for part of the day and coachedin traits associated with the other gender. Boys massaged each other’s feet. Girlswere led in barefoot walks in the snow, and told to throw open the window andscream.“We tried to do that — to educate boys in what girls already knew, and viceversa,” said Mr. Gens, now 68. A wave of criticism broke over him, but that wasexpected.“They said we were indoctrinating the kids,” he said. “I say we’re alwaysindoctrinating kids. Bringing them up is indoctrination.”Teachers were required to review videotapes of themselves with thechildren, to identify subtle differences in the way they interacted with boys and
3/26/18, 12)41 PMIn Swedenʼs Preschools, Boys Learn to Dance and Girls Learn to Yell - The New York TimesPage 4 of 7girls. Many found that they used more words, and more complex sentences, withgirls.Helena Baggstrom, who taught at one of the schools, recalled watchingfootage of herself in a cloakroom, attending to children as they bundled up to gooutside. She saw, to her shock, that she had helped one boy after another getdressed and run out the door. The girls, she realized, were expected to dressthemselves.“It was hard at first to see patterns,” she said. “We saw more and more, andwe were horrified at what we saw.”The strategy of separating boys and girls was later set aside in favor of a“gender neutral” approach intent on muting differences. Still, the spirit of Mr.Gens’s experiment had percolated through the government. In 1998, Swedenadded new language to its national curriculum requiring that all preschools“counteract traditional gender roles and gender patterns” and encouragechildren to explore “outside the limitations of stereotyped gender roles.”Adoption of the practices varies widely, depending on the school’s director.
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